In the last two years, more than $17 billion has been cut from California's education budget. That's about $3,000 per student, and constitutes the greatest cut to public education since the Great Depression.
I believe this is a terribly wrong approach that can undermine California's economic recovery, and stall progress for generations of students and their families.
You can count on me to stand up for education, fight to restore funding and oppose further cuts. Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that because of California's budget process. That's why I'm dedicated to finding the common ground among parents, teachers, families, principals, small and large local businesses and industries, community based organizations and educational institutions, such as San Diego's excellent universities -- to restore the excellence in education that made California the "Golden State."
Granted, we are facing crisis budgets and that must be addressed first and foremost. We must get back on track to reduce class sizes, provide up-to-date computers and learning materials, and bring back music and art classes and other essentials that have already been decimated. We cannot allow the shortening of the school day and school year to continue.
But improving the quality requires more than money. We need to make teacher training as effective as possible. Principals must have access to training that prepares them for an inclusive and changing school governance model. We need to expand accountability that isn't just based on standardized test scores, but also includes other measures of effective learning.
We also have a responsibility to make sure all children, regardless of income or any other factors, have access to a quality education. One proven way to bridge the learning gap is to fund early childhood education and intervention programs during the important formative years. Studies have shown these programs have long-term and profound impacts on keeping children interested in learning and on a path to success. A very recent study called "Project Star" tracked the long-term impact of the quality of kindergarten programs -- and showed, contrary to conventional wisdom, how important that first year of school is.
And we need to reward new, innovative programs which are working in our schools and reevaluate those which don't.
While K-12 education needs a major boost, we cannot forget the importance of higher education and the peril it faces in California. Massive cuts to higher education have been an extreme hardship on our students. The current generation of college students is blessed with a highly developed sense of social responsibility. And we need to nurture this future workforce, not saddle it with mounds of debt forced by high college costs. We cannot allow increased fees and tuition to force willing students out of our higher education institutions.
California's universities and community colleges are an essential component of our economic recovery. Unfortunately, at a time when more people than ever need retraining to compete, classes are being cut and effective and popular courses have long waitlists.
There is no greater investment in our future than higher education, especially here in the San Diego region. We need to reinvest instead of neglecting higher education.
I'm proud to be supported by innovative education leaders like former State Senator Dede Alpert and educators and school support staff, including the California Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association.